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Charter school ritual incites fight; officials hesitant to discuss details
(Published November 28, 2005)
By LAURA PETERSEN
A post-game brawl between two D.C. high school football teams in October, quelled with the assistance of at least a dozen city police officers, resulted in an apparent one-game suspension for a charter school's head coach and an alleged hairline jaw fracture for one of the coach's players.
It is unclear whether officers from the Metropolitan Police Department, which took over responsibility this year for public school security, ever filed a publicly accessible report about the Oct. 7 uprising at Cardozo Senior High School's football field. The police department has not yet responded to The Common Denominator's Freedom of Information Act request for a copy of an MPD report on the incident.
Information about the fight between the Cardozo Clerks and Friendship Edison Collegiate Academy Knights football squads - which may have been incited by a misunderstanding - was obtained for this story through interviews with persons knowledgeable about the incident, many of whom were hesitant to discuss the episode or to have their names disclosed.
During a "burying the hatchet" ceremony on Oct. 26, coaches and players from both schools pledged to lay to rest any animosity resulting from the brawl in an effort to ensure that no more fighting occurs on or off the field. Members of the two teams met to talk about the fight and shake hands, said Friendship Edison Athletic Director Beth Wilkenson. A Cardozo lanyard and a Friendship Edison identification card were tied to the handle of a hatchet and ceremonially buried, she said.
"It squashed the beef," Wilkenson said.
The brawl, which involved most of the players from both teams, started after the Friendship Edison Knights won the football game 12-0 against the Cardozo Clerks - a team they have lost badly to in the past. In their excitement, Friendship Edison performed their victory ritual - jumping jacks, which they call "FECA jacks," while spelling out their team name - in the middle of the field, rather than on the sidelines where they usually celebrate, Wilkenson said.
"Cardozo misunderstood it as a threat and a fight ensued," she said.
Players from Cardozo's side of the field reportedly charged the Friendship Edison players and police had to break up the fight, which lasted about 10 minutes, said School Security Division Capt. Keith Williams.
"It was a lot of pushing and shoving on the field after the game," Williams said.
About 10 officers were on scene and an off-duty reserve officer attending the game called for back-up, Williams said. A woman also called for police to respond, according to MPD's dispatch records.
Wilkensen said she remembered "[police] cars kept coming up, cops were jumping out."
Allegations that Friendship Edison players exposed their buttocks to Cardozo players have not been proven, Williams said. The fight started so quickly that there was not enough time to do that, according to the players, Williams said.
Allegations that a Cardozo coach was swinging helmets during the fight are also false, Williams said. An officer standing near the coach during the fight said that the coach did no such thing, and the person who made the allegation recanted it later, Williams said.
Coaches were trying to break up their players, Wilkensen said.
A few relatives of the players had to be restrained, Williams said, but were released without any criminal charges being filed.
No injuries were attributed directly to the fight, Williams said. One player complained of rib bruising, Williams said, but it was unclear if the bruising was from the fight or playing football. Another Friendship Edison player went to the hospital later to be treated for a hairline fracture to his jaw, Wilkenson said. It was unclear if that injury was caused by the fight or from playing in the game, she said, although others told The Common Denominator that the injured Knights player remained on the bench throughout the game.
Friendship Edison Head Coach Aazaar Abdul-Rahim accepted full responsibility for his players' actions and was "very remorseful," Williams said. Abdul-Rahim was not present at the following football game, but Wilkenson would not explain if his absence was due to disciplinary action. Other sources said Abdul-Rahim was suspended.
Cardozo Athletic Director Robert Richards said that he "was not at liberty to speak about it," when The Common Denominator asked about the fight. Cardozo varsity football Head Coach Marvin Drummond also declined to talk about the fight. He said that he was taking down the scoreboard after the game when it occurred.
Allen Chin, director of athletics for D.C. Public Schools, refused to talk about the fight.
The brawl was "not raised to the level of the superintendent" receiving a report about it, according to DCPS spokeswoman Alexis Moore.
"We have lots of games. Things happen all the time," Moore said.
People were hesitant or unwilling to discuss the fight, Wilkenson said, probably because "charter schools in general get a negative rap" and they are trying to change that image. Friendship Edison does not condone any fighting, Wilkenson said. Her team has taken responsibility for its actions and moved on, she said.
"Just because we didn't throw the first punch still does not mean we weren't involved," Wilkenson said.
Police incident reports were written about the restrained relative and the bruised ribs, MPD's Williams said. An internal "after action" report, in which the police review their own response, was written for the fight itself, he said. No incident report, which is a public document, was written for the fight. Police were glad to resolve the issue without raising it to the level of criminal activity, Williams said.
The burying the hatchet ceremony was the perfect opportunity for the teams to discuss the event and move on, Williams said, because it was held during a regularly scheduled Metropolitan Police Department Youth Advisory Council meeting - in front of student representatives from all the public, private and charter schools located in the Second, Third and Fourth Police Districts. Cardozo, where the fight occurred, is located in the Third Police District, while Friendship Edison Collegiate Academy is located in the Sixth Police District.
Copyright 2005 The Common Denominator